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NBA Preview from The Sports Network



Friday, December 21st (All times Eastern)

Indiana Pacers (14-12) at Cleveland Cavaliers (5-22), 7:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Indiana Pacers will try to continue their great play of late on Friday night when they visit the Central Division-rival Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Pacers have won four of their last five and seven of the past nine. They are the third-ranked defensive team in the NBA and have only allowed two teams to score over 100 points in December.

On Wednesday, the Pacers walloped the Utah Jazz, 104-84, in Indianapolis. Gerald Green led the way with 21 points off the bench, while Paul George had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds and George Hill scored 20 with five assists and five boards.

"The defense led to offense a lot for us tonight and it hasn't done that enough for us this year," said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. "Our offense is coming. When we didn't get stuff that was created by our defense, we executed well on the offense end."

The Pacers have snuck into second place in the Central, just a game behind the Chicago Bulls.

The Pacers have some nagging injuries, but starters Roy Hibbert (bruised left thigh) and Lance Stephenson (sprained right ankle) are both expected in the lineup.

The Cavaliers won't be so lucky.

Anderson Varejao, the NBA's leading rebounder, is expected to miss Friday night's division showdown with a right knee contusion. Daniel Gibson is also doubtful with a right ankle sprain.

Tyler Zeller is expected to start in Varejao's absence. He started for the first time in his career against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday and played for the first time in almost a month without a protective face mask.

"Incredible. The little touch shots and stuff," said Zeller, who had a double- double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. "I shoot a lot of those around the rim out of the corner of my eye. It's nice to be able to do that again and not try to whip my head around to find the rim."

The Cavaliers have been a mess of late. They have lost five in a row and are 1-10 in the month of December. Their only victory came on Dec. 11 when Kyrie Irving returned from a broken hand and guided Cleveland over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers.

Cleveland has allowed over 100 points in their last three games, including the 103-91 loss in Boston on Wednesday. All five Cavaliers' starters scored in double-figures, but the Celtics, led by 40 from Paul Pierce, shot a blistering 59.7 percent from the field.

It should come as no surprise that Cleveland ranks last in the NBA in opponents' field-goal percentage. They are 23rd in points allowed.

The Pacers are 9-1 against the Cavaliers in their last 10, including a recent 96-81 victory in Indianapolis on Dec. 12. The Pacers have taken four of their last five in Cleveland.

12/21 10:32:28 ET